Vietnamese Americans have been present in the movies for a long time, even if most of them tend to work behind the cameras. The rule of thumb is to look at the accountants, assistants, seamstresses, and VFX artists in the end credits.
That said, those who do show up on camera have historically been difficult to spot for a myriad of reasons, both valid and not so much, but their work has been no less vital to the industry. To celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, we decided to highlight 15 notable Vietnamese Americans and their contributions to Hollywood, because it’s never too late to take an interest in them, and who knows? It might just be a Jeopardy! category one day.
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While they are best known in the game world as the archer Lev in The Last of Us: Part II, Ian Alexander is also a regular figure in many high-profile series — The OA, Star Trek: Discovery, and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur among them. This year, viewers can see them alongside another name on this list, Elyse Dinh, in the film Daughter, directed and written by Corey Deshon.
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HBO and recent Oscar nominee Hong Chau go together like cheese and wine; she’s been in three of the platform’s series so far, with every subsequent role bigger than the last (that’s her as Watchmen’s shrewd trillionaire Lady Trieu). On the big screen, she is best known either as the dissident-slash-cleaner in Alexander Payne’s Downsizing or the maître d’ who serves “tortillas deliciosas” in The Menu, though her most acclaimed work came last year in Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale. Chau currently appears in the hit Netflix series The Night Agent, and she can be seen next in Yorgos Lanthimos’ And and Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City.
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With 60 years of experience and numerous accolades, “screen legend” is likely the best descriptor for this Los Angeles-based actress, producer, and humanitarian. She also wrote a memoir that was released in 2021. Some of Kieu Chinh’s next projects are of the noteworthy kind, namely Park Chan-wook’s HBO series The Sympathizer, based on the Pulitzer-winning novel, and the Apple TV+ series Sinking Spring, produced by Ridley Scott and featuring Dustin Nguyen in the cast.
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The Seattle-based actress is best known for being the lead of the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy and the horror-comedy series Boo, Bitch. Condor’s next performance will be voicing the protagonist of Dreamworks’ Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken, a John Hughes-inspired animated film about a kraken girl searching for a sense of belonging in her high school.
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A staple on the renowned variety show Paris by Night, particularly its sketch comedy department, Hong Dao also divides her time acting in shorts, features, and series. Although Dao recently guest-starred in the much-discussed BEEF as the mother of Ali Wong’s character in episode 8 and caused Vietnamese media to go wild, a better example of her capabilities would be the 2019 domestic drama Goodbye Mother.
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Los Angeles-based actress Elyse Dinh has been in various media you know and love, sometimes only as a voice — like the Passenger List podcast series with Kelly Marie Tran — or as a fleeting yet memorable figure — like the violinist in Spider-Man 2. This year, Dinh can be seen playing a key role in the familial thriller Daughter with fellow Vietnamese Americans Vivien Ngo and Ian Alexander. That’s also her voice singing the lullaby in the film’s opening.
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Don Duong was a veteran actor in Vietnamese cinema, memorable for a filmic handsomeness yet everyman demeanor, long before he made his debut in an American-made film. That film was 1999’s Three Seasons, which was directed by his nephew Tony Bui. Duong would also star in 2001’s Green Dragon — directed by Tony Bui’s brother Timothy Linh Bui — and 2002’s We Were Soldiers, opposite Mel Gibson, both of which famously put him at odds with the Vietnamese government. Duong was eventually allowed to emigrate to the US with his family in 2003, continuing to take roles until he passed away in 2011 at age 55.
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An angel lost its wings when the Ohio-born comedian was suspended from Twitter, sending the cool-sounding handle “Party_Harderson” to the cyber-ether. Thankfully, she is still very much active on screens big and small with roles in Together Together (where she’s the lead), The Lost City, and the HBO Max series Made for Love. And yes, that was Harrison in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law as Lulu, the bride who just wants She-Hulk at her wedding.
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The MMA fighter-turned-actor had quite a 2009, appearing in multiple American releases like Fighting with (and losing to!) Channing Tatum, Pandorum with Ben Foster, and Tekken with Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. In the second film, Le is a spear-wielding farmer who speaks Vietnamese, though most viewers might not realize that since none of his lines are subtitled (likely a deliberate creative choice).
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Before shifting gears to become a restaurateur, this Da Nang native with radiant eyes and a glowing smile graced the screens in Green Dragon (starring alongside Don Duong) and — even more noteworthy — Heaven & Earth. The 1993 Oliver Stone film was her acting debut, which impressed filmgoers despite apparent marks of inexperience. Unfortunately, stomach cancer stole Le away in 2017 at the age of 46.
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He’s probably best known as Harry Truman Ioki of the classic 21 Jump Street series and the villain of the 2007 actioner The Rebel, but Dustin Nguyen is also a director and producer. His 2015 comedy Jackpot, in which he co-starred with the late Chi Tai, was Vietnam’s official submission to the 88th Oscars, though it did not score a nomination. He will be seen next in the crime drama The Accidental Getaway Driver, which premiered at Sundance to strong reviews.
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At one point, talks of action cinema would reference this stuntman and actor. While best known for his leading turns in The Rebel and Clash, or for Vovinam-powered face-offs with the likes of Jet Li in Cradle 2 The Grave or Mickey Hardt in Max Havoc, or even for comedic efforts in some Vietnamese hits, Nguyen has also stunt-doubled in high-profile titles such as Collateral and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man.
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Nha Trang native Long Nguyen has been acting for a while, and some of his credits include Heaven & Earth (with Hiep Thi Le) and Green Dragon (starring Don Duong). Nguyen is also the Vietnamese priest in an unforgettable sequence in Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths. He seems to have an affinity for suspense-horror material as well; after playing a janitor with an unnerving request in 2018’s Actress Wanted, he will be in a haunted house film called My Vietnam.
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Distance from the Star Wars series has proven to be ideal for San Diego native Kelly Marie Tran, seeing how she continues to thrive after weathering the fandom menace and, somehow, refusing the call of adventure in Episode IX. Some of the Raya and the Last Dragon star’s upcoming projects include the Kickstarter-backed mystery-comedy Me, Myself & The Void and an upcoming biopic on activist Amanda Nguyen.
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For many people, their first time seeing San Jose native Kathy Uyen on screen would undoubtedly be her appearance in Victor Vu’s triptych horror film Spirits (together with the late actress Kathleen Luong, also in Green Dragon). In Vietnam, where she is now based, Uyen wears multiple hats as a comedic actress, a producer, a director and an acting coach, and she even made local news last year after becoming a mom at 41.